The CGE PRO out of box experience.
Monday January 16th: CGE PRO with EdgeHD 11 arrives! Purchased from Orion for $1500 less than Celestron's advertised price of $7999. At $6499, I felt this was a good choice to carry a heavy load, get good medium to long exposures, and to maintain some portability. Portability was critical for me since I live in a terribly light polluted area. For example, Polaris is only barely visible to the naked eye. Anything dimmer than magnitude 2 is invisible. However, in less than an hours drive, I can make some substantial improvements and arrive at a nice site. A weekend getaway can get me to some very nice skies.
Initial impression: 5 boxes, three of which are huge and very heavy. Even the UPS guys was impressed! These boxes appear to have gone back and forth to China multiple times - it is amazing that they are all still in one piece. They have numerous rips and tears. Luckily they are mostly double boxed and have ample padding inside. After deboxing, the assembly goes very smoothly. I used the instructions for assembly mostly to make sure that I didn't make any stupid mistakes, but in my opinion the assembly was intuitive. Lofting the GEM head on top of the electronics pier took a fair amount of muscle, but it wasn't too bad. Adding the C11 OTA also was a reasonable process.
Balancing was much easier than on my AS-GT. On the AS-GT the stickiness of the RA and DEC lube prevented a fine tuned balance - the mount would simply stick in place as long as you were close to balance. On the CGE PRO this isn't the case: both axes rotate very smoothly and balance can be found quickly and reliably. Having four clutches for each axis was something new to me, but I quickly found that I preferred this over a single clutch. None of the four need to be super tight, just hand tight and the knobs (maligned in some other reviews) allow this to be achieved easily.
My C11 version of the mount came with 2 x 22 pound counter weights. These are more than enough to achieve balance with this OTA and leave plenty of room for more payload before additional counter weights will be needed. (Later I added an ADM side-by-side cross bar and C6 with reducer as a guide scope and this was still able to be balanced with the two weights. I'm not sure a f/6.3 C6 (about 1000mm FL) is going to be the greatest as a guider, but it is what I had around - and it looks cool on the mount.)
Power for a CGE PRO has been brought into question on this forum and many others. For reasons that make no sense to me, Celestron does not provide an AC adapter with this mount (or the AS-GT for that matter). They do sell an AC converter separately which I had purchased in advance. Make sure that you purchase the 5 amp version and not the 2.5 amp! Many people use batteries to power this and other mounts and Celestron includes a "cigarette lighter" adapter in the box for this purpose. For my needs, I will almost always be near AC power and so the AC converter is more convenient / useful. One nice aspect of the 5 amp AC adapter is that is screws securely into the power jack on the electronics pier. This is a huge benefit! No more loosely fiting power chords that fall out in the middle of the night, no more taping the power chord into place to prevent it from falling out. This should be standard on all mounts regardless of the price range and was a major gripe of mine regarding the AS-GT.
After assembly, I tested to make sure basic functionality was ok: the hand controller worked fine and the motors slewed.
Next I tore the whole thing down again and reassembled it. I wanted to make sure I was comfortable doing this in the bright light of my office / computer room before attempting it outside or in the dark. During this second assembly I tried the alternative procedure of breaking the GEM head into two parts. This reduces the weight of what is otherwise the heaviest single component, but increases the number of steps necessary. In my opinion the two part assembly was a little bit easier. I also experimented with moving around the tripod and other components to see just how difficult this was going to be. Unfortunately I don't have an observatory and won't likely have one any time soon. This means a night of observing is going to be preceded by significant setup and conclude with significant tear down. I was happy to find that the tripod itself, while large and heavy, is actually pretty easy to shuffle through the house to the back yard. I attribute this to it being bottom heavy and having good secure hand holds for carrying (otherwise known as the accessory tray / spreader). In the end I decided on leaving the electronics pier and lower half of the mount attached to the tripod and walking this outdoors as a single component (see figure 1) and to add the top half (the heavier half) and OTA as the second and third components respectively. Repeating these test tear down / build ups several times I found that it takes just under 30 minutes to go from an assembled mount indoors, tear it down and reassemble outdoors. This wasn't nearly as long or difficult as I had feared that it might be. It isn't the grab-and-go the AS-GT is, but still very doable. This passes my first major criteria for this mount.
Figure 1. The tripod attached to the electronics pier and lower portion of the mount. While heavy (summing from table 1 we can find a weight of 68.5 pounds), these three parts can be relatively easily carried in and out of the house in one piece reducing the total number of assembly steps necessary.
It was during this process that I found the first thing about the mount that I didn't like. The electronics pier has several plates attached by screws in its side for PC, AUX, hand control, power, etc. ports. The plate holding the power switch and power input was missing both of its screws and was loose. This immediately set my mind in motion regarding the many questionable quality assurance stories I'd read on the internet. The next day I went to a hardware store and purchased a few M3 screws which fit. (figure 2) Problem solved?
Figure 2. (left) The electronics pier arrived with two screws missing leaving the power plate loose. (right) 2 M3 screws fix the problem though not as aesthetically pleasing.
Of course weather prevented any celestial use of the scope. To fill the time I updated the firmware of both the hand controller (HC) and the motor controller (MC). The firmware of both were substantially out of date. Unfortunately I don't have the original version numbers in front of me, but my impression is that these were more than a year old. I updated to HC 4.20c and MC 6.17. Everything still worked well and having access to custom slew rate 9 was nice. The maximum slew rate, which is the default slew rate 9, is frighteningly fast to be moving such a large load. Setting a slightly slower maximum slew rate also makes the noise of the slews significantly less.
Weather still was not great, but a few nights after the 'scopes arrival I was able to take it for its a spin. I did a 2+4 alignment which worked very easily. Gotos were accurate. Coming from the AS-GT, backlash was close to non-existant. Unfortunately seeing was very, very bad so both Venus and Jupiter looked like they were under water. Also, the OTA appeared to be somewhat in need of collimation, but that is a story for another day. Later in the evening, fighting wretched dew problems (see wish list below), I was able to get 2 minute unguided exposures of M1 (figure 3, first light) and M42 at prime focus of 2800mm without any significant difficulty. This makes me confident about this mount's ability for long exposures once I have autoguiding setup.
Unfortunately that night I only had a few hours available to me so I didn't get to do much more and the forecast for the foreseeable future was grim. A few days later (Friday January 20th) I powered up the mount again (indoors) to test a camera and mount configuration. To my horror, however, the DEC motor didn't respond! Over the next 72 hours, with the help of "Derick" from the "TeamCelestron" webpage, I did some trouble shooting of the system. As it turned out the DEC motor was fine - the problem was found to be in the electronic pier. A number of phone calls and email exchanges with Celestron technical support (and followed up by phone calls to Orion, the vendor) and I am now in the process of exchanging the entire mount. Initially Celestron wanted me to ship the broken mount to them which they would repair and send back. A process they admitted would take on the order of 30 days (reading the internet suggests even that might be optimistic). Orion was much more supportive and was able to convince Celestron to ship a new mount as soon as they take delivery on the old one. I shipped the mount this afternoon (Tuesday January 24th). One reason I can be patient about this is because the weather around here (Texas) is completely socked in. There isn't a day of good visibility expected for at least a week and its raining now... The other reason I am feeling more patient about this is because the mount I got from Orion is clearly very old. I base this on the out of date firmware on the MC and HC. Additionally, on the shipping box there was still the original shipping label of when Celestron shipped it to Orion dated November of 2010. Recently there have been reports on the internet (not as of yet substantiated, but interesting none-the-less) that Celestron has made improvements to this product and I am hoping that the new mount I get from Celestron will actually be one of these new "special" ones. I expect to have at least some answers soon as things turned out a bit better than I expected. After informing Celestron that the old mount was "in the mail" they initiated shipment on their end and today - only 6 days after putting the old mount in the mail - UPS delivered the new one which is set up and appears to be working fine. I can't say the whole process has inspired my confidence or made me very happy, but all in all - with a little pushing - Celestron and Orion both did the right thing by me. In the end the whole mess only cost me two and a half nights of clear skies. Of course rain is now back in the forecast for the next five days or so...
Things I already had that I'm using with this system:
Extra parts I bought for my setup:
Things I wish I could afford now but can't: